The Sparrow and The Red-Crowned Crane

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-1

A small sparrow was weaving her way down along the tree line, darting in-and-out of its branches before quickly changing directions and taking a steep dive over the riverside grasses.  With a slight shift of her body she then swiftly rose again, up over the treetops.

Japanese Alps ~ Nagano

The morning air lifting her higher and holding that crispness of winter that she found so refreshing.  It was the same bite of cold that sent all her friends south, leaving her alone.

She chirped happily remembering how her loneliness was quickly replaced by the call of adventure.  To explore the winter world and its forbidden culture.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-3

The beginning of this quest happened during her migration south, when she became enchanted with the most graceful and serene bird she had ever seen, the red-crowned crane.

The mythical status of the crane was well-known in her world, a symbol of longevity and peace: the prince of all feathered creatures. Until now, their secret world was impenetrable, for as a lowly sparrow such a life was impossible to imagine…until fate intervened.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-5

As was often the case, she was again late and had to wake up early, prior to daybreak, and fly to catch up with her host of sparrows heading south.

She darted around the landscape but could not avoid the feeling her life was about to change. She rounded a bend within eyeshot of her host when she became drawn to the frostbitten dew below; glittering as dawn’s rays were captured in frozen prisms along the river.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-4

She saw this as an invitation of adventure; the chance to create a new path and without hesitation she slightly arched her left wing and veered from her patterned route and soared into a new world.

“They thought that it would be a disgrace to go forth as a group. Each entered the forest at a point that he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path. If there is a path it is someone else’s path and you are not on the adventure.”  – Joseph Campbell

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-6

Amid the fog, an impressive red-crowned crane was enjoying his quiet morning. The frost and fog along with the thin shield of ice along the riverbank had made fishing for his breakfast much easier, so after eating his fill he had time to appreciate his surroundings.

He had wandered far from his friends, uncommon for red-crowned cranes of his stature but he did not care. His mind drifted off to a very strange sight, a simple sparrow balanced on a low-laying branch mesmerized by the frozen dew crystals dancing with the morning sun.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-7

While normally a common sight in autumn, he knew a single sparrow perched along the side of the river in the dead of winter was a very, very rare thing.

With a grace he had only recently acquired with age, he danced along the water as if he was the Gene Kelly of the avian world, and called out to the sparrow, “Why, little sparrow, are you resting here along the riverbank as winter takes over the land?”

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-8

“You should be well on your way south, along with your friends…”

The sparrow looked up and smiled, “I was, but then I saw this river and the beauty of winter so alive this morning that I thought I would stop and join you.” She opened her throat as to sing a song, but an unexpected shiver interrupted this plan.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-9

The crane looked at the determined sparrow, and said “when I saw you careening through the trees, along the grasses and then skimming over the river, you added rare elegance on a cold winter day…”

The sparrow tweeted happily and briefly the crane thought if birds could blush, this sparrow would look more like the fabled red robin, aglow in feigned embarrassment.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-10

The crane looked into the proud eyes of the sparrow and saw the strength he long admired: a species of bird famous for the fact they would rather starve themselves to death than be bred in captivity.

The sparrow started singing, and the crane could not hide his admiration for the great spirit of this little bird.

As she took off for another quick flight, the red-crowned crane thought about her feathers.  Like all sparrows, her feathers were simple and unadorned and fall flat in comparison to other birds, especially the red-crowned crane. Guiltily, he caught himself looking at his reflection in the river.

Humility, such an honest and great trait to have he thought to himself.

Winter Ice on Lake

As the sparrow alighted on the crane’s back, the crane turned and shook his head slowly and added, “this winter weather has turned for the worse today and seeing as you are only in a light coat of feathers this is not a good thing…”

The sparrow, looked up and was a bit shocked at the increasing chill even with the sun coming up, and merely nodded and fluttered her wings.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-12

A seed of despair entered her mind as she thought about her decision to break from her host, but it was quickly erased with the possibility of the day.

“What you say is true” shivered the sparrow, “I do not fully understand why I did not migrate, yet it does not matter as that moment has passed. Rather, it is our talk and experiencing this winter-wonderland I aspire to…” and quickly she took off in flight to warm herself before resting onto the crane once again.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-13

“My days are filled with song, flight and freedom which makes every day an adventure.” The sparrow chirped and sang proudly, “and while true we are rather insignificant in the avian world, we are rewarded with a richness of life most can only dream.”

The crane smiled at this energy and sang too, although knowing his voice was no match for that of a sparrow.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-14

A sharp chilling wind whistled down the river, and the two birds looked at each other. “What I will do this winter is what I always do.  I will share with you my song, my spirit and make do with what life brings my way…” the sparrow gracefully stated.

The red-crowned crane whooped and pranced around, and for a moment the sparrow felt humiliated, scolding herself for even considering why such a regal bird would create even a little time for her.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-15

She took a deep breath and set off into the cold wind to find whatever destiny lay ahead when the crane began to speak.

“To spend such time with a living creature such as yourself, someone with strength, vitality and perseverance seldom found in this world would be an honor for both myself and my friends.” mused the crane.

And as he spoke those words, he struck a pose as if he was courting the queen herself!

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-16

The sparrow laughed, and sang a song sweeter than any crane had heard before. In return, the crane broke out into a little jig, not caring how ridiculous he looked. This caused the sparrow to sing even more beautifully.

“There may be mythical stories about us as we keep to ourselves and our population is few compared to sparrows…” the crane spoke breathlessly, “but in the end we are all brothers and sisters.”

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-17

The song of the sparrow took on a different tone, and the melody changed as the beak of the sparrow started to chatter a bit more as the icy northern wind swooped in.

The crane laughed, not an unkind laugh, but an admirable one at the courage and spirit of this little sparrow. In front of her stood a brutal day of winter, a day that would certainly lead to her demise, yet she was still full of hope. Inspiring.

Lonely Winter Tree along Frozen Lake

The little sparrow flitted around the crane and swept its right wing just over the water causing a ripple…before returning, shivering to his shoulder again; hope and honesty in her eyes.

“Little sparrow, come with me back to my home and you can bathe in our hot springs and dine on our fine grasses…”

Flight Home

Seeing a small sign of relief on her face, the crane added, “your song is angelic, enough to turn any bone-chilling winter into a warm cup of tea…and may I ask in return you teach us your songs of life so we may dance and sing ourselves throughout this winter and learn more of your wonderful world.”

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-20

Such words were music to the sparrow’s ears as the cold was quickly making both flight and song difficult. She smiled and tucked herself next to the crane and together they parted~ to make it through the cold of the winter and into the glow of spring.

Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤  ~ 仙鹤-21

Bowl of Forested Lake

***  This story was partially inspired by an old Burl Ives children’s song The Robin my twin sister Kim and I used to listen to over and over again when we were young (and for my Mom’s patience for letting us do so). Also it reflects the debate in China of choosing a national bird, with both the sparrow and red-crowned crane being the top choices.

230 Comments on “The Sparrow and The Red-Crowned Crane

  1. Lovely story, I really enjoyed it! I didn’t know China was debating a national bird. Which takes your vote?
    Also, beautiful photos. How long do you take to make a photoshoot like this?

    • Thank you Sofia, at one time the crane seemed to have been the choice but it was never confirmed and since then the humble sparrow has made a pretty good case. Both birds I find worthy, both representing such a different class. As for the time of the shoot, I was in the area for a couple days and between sightseeing and eating spent a few hours just on photography. It was freezing cold…that I do remember 🙂

  2. Oh, Randall, that final photo is such a beauty. My favorite, even among some of the best photos of cranes I have ever seen. Truly. I would have loved witnessing their dance. Once again, you have captivated me with your photography. No secret there, huh. 🙂

    However, this time, I felt slowly rocked into the calmest of states with this incredible tale. Your prose can be mood altering, indeed. There is too much to compliment you on here and I fear I would be left to look a bit out of my mind, if I even began this list of praise begging to be released. These birds, full of humbled worthiness, would be hard to choose from. A sparrow is one to be admired and my heart goes out to the journey it is on…the crane, well, yes he is quite amazing and worthy of devotion, I think. The musings in this tale speak to my soul. Amazing, Dalo.

    The quote from Joseph Campbell, well, means something I can’t quite begin to articulate. I need no path. Only the simple whisper of a dream. You’re one of a kind, Mr. Collis.

    • Auddie, thank you much ~ always so nice to hear your words 🙂 These two birds captures a lot of our imagination I think; a common sparrow versus the regal crane…a bit of what we all feel inside and in our soul. Both birds being worthy of admiration. The quote from Joseph Campbell is my favorite, have used it before and of course will again ~ a very wise man. Take care and have a good week!

  3. What an endearing, wonderful way to bring the national debate live to us, R. In that one shot of the crane ballerina looking skyward, I’m not sure if it’s birds who mimic dancers or people who aspire to the artful beauty of birds. I think it’s the latter.

    My favorite line:

    “My days are filled with song, flight and freedom which makes every day an adventure.”
    Your own story, it seems.

    • Very poetic comment Diana, thank you. It is a very interesting debate and one I do not think will be decided on anytime soon. You chose my favorite shot ~ it is a pose that I’ve never seen. Flight, dance and the artful beauty of birds…not bad traits to aspire to 🙂
      Take care and enjoy the week ~

  4. I couldn’t imagine all these beautiful cranes living among me — what a blessing! Thank you for sharing a beautiful story — you and your sister must have had such a refined taste to listen to and repeatedly request this story as children!

    • Thank you Neely ~ the story is freshly written, but the song about the robin we’d listen to endlessly…such a great album. Wish you a fantastic week.

  5. These pictures are mesmerising, Randal…their own poetry is far more profound than any words that shine through them, spontaneously. Each one inspires a myriad emotions! They seem to epitomize freedom and breathtaking love…Mother Nature in its best moods…immortalized by you! Thanks for sharing poetic photography.

    • Thank you Balroop ~ one of the most striking birds I’ve seen, I think they really are princes of the avian world. Cheers.

  6. Utterly enchanting!!! Wouldn’t be able to pick a favourite from your stunning series if I tried! Wondering who would pick the humble sparrow over this ethereal, graceful bird, despite all the former’s virtues? 🙂

    • Thank you Madhu ~ these cranes were majestic in just about everything they did. Could sit and watch them everyday and never be tired of the sight. Cheers ~

      • I can imagine. I would be mesmerized as well! Where exactly in China is this?

      • These cranes are mainly found in NE China at the Zhalong Nature Reserve, and also at Hokkaido, Japan.

  7. Oh my, what a storyteller you are, Randall. Your words as gorgeous and captivating as your photographs.
    Beyond beautiful.

  8. An echo of your soul.. something changed you lately. Your camera technique also changed. The sharpness is not anymore one of the main things you are looking for. You search THE SUBSTANCE.. And you can fill pages after pages with pure SUBSTANCE… And poetry.
    That’s all.

    • Yes Luana, substance is very important for me in photography…but given a chance I want everything to be sharp 🙂 Thank you very much for your great eye and wish you well.

      • Well, my dear… For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it… In your case, evidently, there are many eyes seeing it.
        The sharpness is there.. but it became bold… relevant.. and even more beautiful.

        Spring is coming even for you? 🙂

      • Very poetically stated ~ and yes, I am hoping that spring is just around the corner for me. A great new year to explore…

  9. A beautiful parable Randall and you photography is stunning, as usual. So, China is just now deciding on a national bird? Or did another one get the boot? The crane seems the logical choice given its prevalence in Chinese art. Where did you photograph the cranes?

    • Thanks Ron. The original debate started in ’08, and they are still undecided (although the crane is often seen as the logical choice…but its Latin name (Grus japonensis) will make its acceptance difficult). The debate is fascinating, and I like the idea of it going on & on with no resolution…I think that would be perfect as I like both ~

  10. You’ve captured it all. You’ve tackled all subjects. Every time I come here, greatness is expected. This one’s a sweet surprise. I love the sense of freedom on this story. As I was reading, I felt like they’re “dancing” more so than just singing. 😉 Thanks again, Dalo. And keep surprising your follower. I don’t think you’ll ever disappoint.

    • With the cranes as subjects, it was hard to go wrong ~ thank you Rommel. You are so right, they move as if they dance and it is just who they are…not a bad character trait to have. Cheers to a great coming weekend ~

  11. Wow ! The cranes and everything in the pictures is purely beautiful. The birds are in harmony with the surrounding and with each other. Thank you for these pictures.

    • Thank you very much ~ I agree and I think that may be part of the magic of these birds as everything seems to be in harmony. Cheers!

    • Incredible birds, aren’t they! Hokkaido is amazing as well, although I have yet to experience it in Spring…winter there is a slice of frozen heaven. Cheers ~

  12. The beauty of the photos, Randall, broke my heart. Moments so well captured!
    And then your words, especially, “the frostbitten dew below; glittering as dawn’s rays were captured in frozen prisms along the river.” show just how well you can write, not that that was ever a topic for debate. 🙂
    While reading your story I marveled at the way you’ve framed it, and I couldn’t help but perceive a parallel that you’ve drawn between the animal world and the human world. This was most apparent in the line – ““There may be mythical stories about us as we keep to ourselves and our population is few compared to sparrows…” the crane spoke breathlessly, “but in the end we are all brothers and sisters.”” – Now, I don’t know if that was your intention but it did strike me as that (too).
    So you see, you hold the power to put so many things in one beautifully worded story… You make it hard for your readers to find their favorite bits – there are all too many!

    • You have chosen my favorite line of the story ~ it was the starting point of the new adventure for the sparrow, and from memory seeing such sights growing up always had that impact on me. Thank you very much for your comment and insight, as I had hoped to bring out the layers of society in this story, especially in China where the common folks (sparrows) and elites (party leaders) are growing further apart, but in the end it simply does not matter if there is mutual respect (and freedoms to understand that respect). And to say my photos broke your heart, a compliment I’ll treasure 🙂

  13. A beautiful picture series and sensitive, humble story telling. I enjoyed reading it:)

    • Thank you very much Inger ~ it is always nice to see things from the humble-perspective (much like nature I suppose). Cheers ~

  14. Randall, brilliant photography, as usual, with such a lovely story from your childhood to accompany it. I especially appreciate how you’ve captured the Red Crowned Cranes’ synchronized movements, as well as the landscape dusted in a confectioner’s sugar-like snowfall. Certainly you must have had frozen fingertips after this photo shoot. 🙂

    • Thank you Tricia, the feeling of seeing those cranes and their elegance and the seemingly contradictions of their life versus the sparrow was fun to think and write about. As bitter and bleak winter can seem to be, within is a lot of beauty (cold fingers and all). Cheers to adventure!

  15. What a wonderful story Randall and incredibly beautiful photos! You’ve captured the elegance of the Red-crowned crane so well!

  16. Dear Dalo,

    It is so hard to even write a comment on this post…

    You have taken the healthy competition between your images and stories to a different level 🙂

    I had opened this post many a times and gone through each and every image here, but didn’t read the story.

    But as I started reading it, I scrolled down from line to line without even bothering to look at the pictures in between.

    Frankly, this is what happened 🙂 I don’t know what to infer from it…

    Once I closed my eyes and tried to re-create the story in my mind, I could see many different layers of it…

    A story of ‘freedom’,’adventure’, mutual respect…

    In a nut shell, I felt relaxed and the song of the sparrow was reverberating in my head…

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful work 🙂

    Have a beautiful day ahead 🙂

    • Thank you Sreejith, it was pretty fun to focus on the story telling in this post especially with these two birds as they have this great sense of contradiction between them both. What makes me very happy reading your comment is finding the different layers of the story…thank you. The differences of cultures, status is irrelevant when chasing freedom and adventure and mutual respect for all of those that do. Wish you a great weekend ~ take care.

  17. If I were a bird I’d like a red hat 🙂 but then I’d prefer to sing like the sparrow. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful pictures and words 🙂

    • Couldn’t agree more, your song along with your red hat ~ you’d be drawing in the bird lovers from all around the world 🙂 Thank you Charlotte!

  18. captivating, I love the story and the photographs
    this should be a childrens book ( may I purchase the first one ?)
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful art….
    Take Care…You Matter…

    • Thank you Maryrose ~ you will get the first one off the press, autographed of course 🙂 What a nice comment, makes my day. Wish you a great coming weekend ~

      • I shall hold that thought and hold you to your words 🙂
        Have a wonderful week ahead….
        Take Care…You Matter…

    • You say well ~ thank you very much MaziGrace ~ there is something special in the amazing grace of nature.

  19. Your words, your photos…absolutely beautiful! How fortunate we are to have beauty all around us…if we take the time to notice. Thanks for noticing for us.

    • Thank you Jill ~ so true, to see the beauty around us no matter where we are if we just take the time. Cheers ~

  20. Your story is as captivating as your photos. I was completely drawn in and enjoyed it very much. What a gift you have, not only of presenting a story with pictures, but also with words. 🙂 Brilliant!

    • Thanks Kev, enjoyed writing this story quite a bit…put me in a different world for a moment. Cheers!

  21. You’ve blessed the world with a masterpiece. Charming story interwoven with lovely rare pictures. A great, inspiring example to emulate. Bravo!

    • Thank you so much Ngobesing, the photos and stories flowed together so well in my mind and glad you saw it while reading. Wish you all a great weekend ~

      • Thank you Dalo. Same to you and congratulations on your wonderful blog. I am amazed by the number of likes you get. It’s hard to figure out how one gets to such large numbers of likes.I work so hard but I am far from being there.

  22. Randall- This is a magnificent post. Your writing paired with your exceptional images is a treat to see. The images of the cranes with their clouds of breath and dancing a jig are wonderful and your ability to capture intimate landscapes is inspiring. Thank you!

    • Thank you very much Jane, truly a great comment to wake up to ~ very happy you enjoyed the post. Cheers ~

  23. Your photos are absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and share some kind of spirituality beyond words.

    • Thanks Mike ~ there was a certain amount of fun putting together this post and story. Cheers ~

  24. What a beautiful story, with many layers of meaning, yet so simply and honestly told… I love it! And of course the images are just stunning!

    • It was initially going to be a short 400 – 500 word story, but then I kept expanding on the structure & meaning because it was just fun to write and think about ~ very happy you enjoyed it, makes my night out here in HK.

      • Its as long as it needs to be, and thats just as it should be. 😊

    • NE part of China and in Hokkaido, Japan are the two largest reserves for these Red-Crowned Cranes…truly a majestic bird.

  25. Stunning photography and fantastic post! Very nice to have found you and thank you for visiting my blog as well!

      • I can only imagine… for now! Your photos are so immediate and focused. It’s very easy to close my eyes and feel transported. Looking forward to checking out more of your works.

    • Great place to get lost both in the beauty of the birds and landscape along with the history and myths of these great birds. Cheers!

  26. It is a very beautiful story. Written with the grace and elegance of the crane and the feisty spirit of the sparrow! And the photos are stunning too!

    • This was a fun story to write, as the two birds as you describe are so perfectly matched with their attitudes. Thank you Georgina.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: